Oregon FNAWS
Hunt Stories - Rick Vetter
Rick Vetter 1
Elkhorn Mountains,
Oregon Rocky Mountain Goat Hunt,
September 8,2007
By Rick Vetter
Only a handful of hunters have ever drawn this tag in Oregon, and most people never draw even after applying for 50 years. The odds are 3 times greater that a hunter will draw a Bighorn Sheep and that could be 2 tags for 1000 applicants. If you are lucky enough to draw a Mt. Goat tag - two chances in about 3000 - you must plan on spending summer weekends above 8000 feet in physical training and scouting for a respectable Billy. This is the best part of the hunt, since hunter success is 100%, and usually during the first day, thus a short hunt. People have broken ankles falling down talus slopes, one was medivaced due to altitude sickness and others destroyed their trucks on steep rocky mountain roads. We survived the scouting of 20 miles each weekend and elevation gains of 2000 feet, although our 50 and 60 plus year old bodies were talking to us the rest of the week. It is imperative to have help at this age. Frank Bird (fisheries biologist), Mike McGee (wildlife biologist) and his son, Porter, and Joan (wildlife Biologist) helped with scouting and the hunt. Tule, our faithful giant Lab (assistant biologist), spent some time on the mountain also.
The day before we departed for the hunt, I sent photos of the billy we saw the week before to Brian Ratliff (ODFW biologist) and Kirk Marston (Wild Memories Taxidermy). Both responded, "You are a fool if you do not go after that billy." So, plans were set for the first day of the hunt, to find that big billy again.
As we drove up the mountain the day before the hunt, we bumped into the other hunter for this once in a lifetime hunt. What are the chances of that, since I never saw him the entire summer and he was scouting with about 10 people? He was walking up the steep road because his truck broke down, so we gave him a ride to the top where he joined his friend. This hunter was about 24 years younger than me, but I was 150 pounds lighter. We both survived weeks of scouting and only had to survive one more day. We watched them slowly walk up the remaining trail from our camp at the summit. They were spike camping in and had a support crew of 10 people at lower elevations on both sides of the mountain. They must have had a very cold and windy night considering the lack of gear with a zero degree wind chill that night. We set up camp and went to find our Billy that we found the week before. After 5 min in the canyon I found him directly below us feeding in the last hours of daylight. We watched him slowly move towards some trees to bed down, and he looked up at us with his good eye just to let us know he was aware of the situation. Would he be there tomorrow?
Back at camp, on the 7500 ridge, the wind howled at 20 mph with gusts up to 50! First it blew the stove off the table and then the table off the road. Later that night it blew our tarp away, a ground pad and our extra sleeping bag cover down the mountain. We did not sleep well. Our friend Mike slept in the truck bed and fared better.
Rick Vetter 2
The wind chill opening morning was ZERO, but we warmed up by walking the 2.5 mile trek to the saddle, where we would drop off the edge of the cliff to a saddle on the east side. No Goat to be found! He really was paying attention last night when he eyed us. We looked till noon and no Mt goat, but Joan watched 2 bull elk, a 6 point and 4 point. As we were just about to give up, Mike walked up from his hike down below and said I have no idea where that Billy is. As I turned to look at Mike, I saw a Mt. goat come into view about 200 yards directly behind Mike, an area we had just came from! He was in the trees near the edge of a 500 foot cliff, and then he disappeared. Waited 4 hours and he only showed himself for a moment at 260 yds downhill through a small window in the trees, where I shot and missed. We had 3 hours of light left, so we stalked him to within 70 yards and I connected this time. He was a massive Mt goat, but on his last year due to a serious wound sustained in a fight and or an accident on the cliffs. We waited a few minutes and walked up to his limp body. Mike reached down to touch him and the old goat jumped back to life and shocked us both, as we jumped back. Brought back memories of rodeo Rick dancing with a NY whitetail buck a few years back. Then he died. But he had one more surprise. As I reached down and grabbed his horn, it fell off in his hand! Although shocked and bummed, we were actually lucky it fell off in my hand and not earlier on the ground. Mike said, "I am sure glad I didn't touch that horn before you did!" Due to some battle or accident on the cliff, he had an infection around the eye and horn that weakened the horn. Joan quickly reminded me that if a horn falls off before the Mt goat dies, it does not count in the score! Yeah, right! Well, he died first! She said, well, why are his muscles twitching? I responded, he is not breathing This went on for 10 minutes, before we realized the evening light was fading. A call to the taxidermist later in the day set me at ease, since he said he has to take the horns off to clean the inside, and I saved him a little work.
I did him a favor by shooting him, otherwise his fate may have been decided by the Mt Lion that recently killed 3 kids the week before. Mt. goats do not migrate and tough out the winters at 8000-9000 feet in 10 feet of snow by eating lichen off the rocks and tree branches! He would not survive the winter in his condition, and was probably pushed out of the breeding pool. But, he was the dominant Billy for many years on this part of the Mountain. Sort of sad to see a magnificent animal like this fade away from the herd and die, but there are 250 or more on the mountain range, and this is one way to manage the population. His horns were massive for a Mt Goat, over 10 inches, and Oregon Dept of Fish and Wildlife would do the semi-official measurement at the mandatory check-in the next day. Now the work started, skinning out a 275 pound animal with only one cut along the back to save the entire cape for a possible full body mount. Took about 2 hours and we never touched the gut, then we removed the body from the cape and quartered out the meat. We each carried an 80 pound backpack up the cliff for about 600 vertical feet to the summit trail. It was now dark and the wind was blowing 20-30 mph again, after a calm, sunny day. Took about 2 hours to hike back to camp in the dark. We were so tired we skipped dinner, rearranged the truck and all slept in the truck since the wind was stronger tonight. Mike was in the back seat and we were in the back. As Joan painfully crawled into bed she said, "I am never applying for this tag", but then changed her mind the next morning.
Rick Vetter 3
The next day we took the Mt. Goat to ODFW in Baker City for the mandatory stamp on the horn and measurements. Several retired biologist friends, including Dick Haines who provided some lodging late one night and George Keister who gave sage advice on the Mt. Goats, both from Baker City, joined up with several ODFW biologists to measure the old goat. And, of course, I carefully slipped the horn back on before they saw the head! This was Nick Myatt's first attempt at scoring a Mt. goat and I was hoping he would grab the loose horn but he grabbed the other one. Before he could measure the second horn the retired ODFW biologist grabbed the other horn, and it fell off in his hand. Rick yelled, "What the hell did you do?!" He was momentarily shocked, as much as I was the day before. We laughed, as half of us knew what happened. Finally Nick's measurements indicated it may be the second largest Mt Goat ever taken in Oregon, with a Boon and Crocket score (unofficial) of 52 1/2 pts, just a 1/2 point behind the record holder of 53 pts. The horns were 10 3/4 inches long and almost 6 inches in circumference at the base! Awesome for a Mt. Goat! This would be like shooting a 7pt Bull elk. Aside from the points, he was a special Mt. goat with the loose horn. Sure is nice to have all these old friends together for a special occasion. Joan said thanks for coming down to look at the Mt. goat and George Keister responded, we did not come down to look at a Mt. goat, we came down to look at Rick's Mt Goat! That's what good friends are really about. I owe these guys a pheasant hunt on Malheur Refuge, at the secret spot! And speaking of friends, a special thanks goes out to Brian Ratliff (ODFW biologist), Larry Hammond (a long time Burns friend) and Jim Cronin, a past successful Mt goat hunter in the Elkhorns, all of whom provided invaluable information on Mt. Goats.
And 3 days after the hunt I met Mike Billman, who I first met 3 weeks earlier for the first time and after learning where I hunted said, "Darn, I have a cabin in Bourne that you drove by on every trip, and you could have stayed in it, just 4 miles below the windy ridge camp." Guess Joan better draw a Mt. goat tag next, so we can take advantage of that offer!
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